Barbados Ministry of Education Sets up Hotline Following Controversy Over School Survey

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – The Ministry of Education Technological and Vocational Training has set up a hotline as the controversy surrounding the survey administered to children in the secondary school system that has offended many citizens.

MOETVTrainEducation Minister Kay McConney has already indicated that she has no intention of running away from the situation and the ministry said that the hotline “is to assist those who are concerned that their children/wards have been negatively affected by the survey instrument recently administered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) within some secondary schools”.

The ministry said that the hotline would remain operational until November 10 and that parents have a seven-hour window Monday to Friday to express their concerns.

Last week, an estimated 733 students from first-form students at five of the island’s secondary schools had to complete a survey, as part of a Computer Science test that made many of them uncomfortable.

The questions related to their sexuality, gender, mental state, and their home circumstances, among other areas.

Anglican Church Bishop, Michael Maxwell, said the church is concerned about the matter and that “while it has been described as a computer science pre-test,” some of the questions reported in the press and on social media, “seem to go beyond standard demographic information”.

In a video message, Bishop Maxwell said best practice demands that the testing of human subjects, especially minors, should always be subjected to oversight by an ethics body responsible to ensure “that unintended harm is not done,” and also with the consent of parents or guardians.

“In this case, it may be asserted that harm was done, both in the present and the future,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell expressed the Anglican Church’s deep concern about the situation, “which involves a very important demographic within our society,” adding that it should be constructively addressed “to ensure that there is never a repeat of an incident of this nature.

“Legally, ethically and practically, parents or guardians should have been informed and consent sought so that families would have had the choice to opt out of such an exercise,” he said.

“This is particularly important, because in an age of data privacy and based on what has been reported so far, the information gleaned from those students seems deeply personal and sensitive and could have potentially been used against them.”

Maxwell said there several questions that need to be raised and addressed including why the test not reviewed by a Ministry of Education official before final administration, given the reported initial objections to a number of areas.

Last week, the IDB expressed regret that the survey it administered to children in the Barbados secondary school system had offended many citizens, saying it “sincerely apologizes, but stresses that no offence was intended.

The questions at the center of concern, to which the Ministry of Education had objected prior to the administering of the survey and which were inadvertently left in the paper, have been removed,” the IDB said, adding that it recognizes its position as a development partner with the Barbados government “with a long and mutually respectful relationship”.

It said it wanted to assure “Barbadians it would not deliberately engage in any practice that would harm that relationship”.